Having recently watched Louis C.K’s Hilarious, the concept of “white people problems” crept into my mind during Carnage’s 80-minute runtime. It’s not so much that Yasmina Reza’s original stage play dealt with white privilege directly; conversely, it addressed issues of suppressed nihilism and the false pretenses of upper-class white guilt. It’s through this social context that Reza was able to wryly address the overarching sense of boredom that stems from a life of luxury – whereupon items like an apple-pear cobbler or tulips become markers of excitement. And while Roman Polanski’s film adaption lacks an overt cinematic quality (on a technical level, Carnage never escapes its theatrical trappings), the fact that it is Polanski at the helm gives the whole picture an added layer of intrigue.
The simplicity of Carnage is among its most appealing aspects – from a battle on the playground to a battle in a posh New York apartment, Carnage is a lean feature. Whereas Polanski’s previous apartment- oriented pictures dealt with an individual’s growing paranoia in a confined space (Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski in The Tenant, and Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion), Carnage utilizes a quartet of impressive actors. With Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet, Carnage is a more overt expression of the anxieties felt within a confined space, wherein a breakdown of social norms occurs through verbose dialogue and unwelcomed human interaction. It’s an interesting corollary to much of Polanski’s filmography, as his films tend to ambiguously address larger themes, whether it’s the strains of pregnancy or halted social mobility. With Carnage, the film becomes an expose on white liberal’s quest for political correctness, where civility is not just a virtue, but an identity marker. It’s spelled out clearly through the picture, particularly in the film’s turning point, where polite civility is literally vomited upon.
The whole picture benefits from a quick sense of wit and propelling movement. Whether exchanges between actors are civil or not, there’s a constant sense of anxiety that builds up until the film’s final scene. There are little nuances to how Polanski frames the film, particularly in his usage of mirrors, windows, and exits. While the actors often make note of their confined space (questions to the effect of “Why are we still here?” are uttered on more than one occasion), Polanski keeps the air of the apartment quite tight. Little touches like opening the window seems to elevate the tension in the room and has the same remarkable affect on the audience. While the picture is not Polanski’s best - its on-the-nose quality working both for and against it - it’s the funniest of the film’s I’ve seen of his.